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Health Highlights: Sept. 21 2015

Expert Panel to Review Essure Birth Control Implant Problems: FDA Price of Infectious Disease Drug Rises from $13.50 to $750 a Tablet New Health Law Rule Faces Bipartisan Opposition

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Expert Panel to Review Essure Birth Control Implant Problems: FDA

Reports of problems associated with the Essure birth control implant will be reviewed by an expert panel, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

The device has been available for 13 years, but the FDA has recently received a number of complaints of problems such as bleeding, allergic reactions, headaches and chronic pain, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA advisory panel will assess the issue Thursday and offer possible solutions.

Essure is marketed as the only permanent birth control method that does not require surgery. The device consists of two metallic coils inserted into the fallopian tubes, where they trigger scar tissue that blocks sperm, the AP reported.


Price of Infectious Disease Drug Rises from $13.50 to $750 a Tablet

The price of a 62-year-old drug used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection recently rose from $13.50 to $750 a tablet, an increase condemned by infectious disease specialists.

Daraprim (pyrimethamine) is the standard of care for toxoplasmosis. The drug was acquired in August by Turing Pharmaceuticals, which immediately hiked the price. That means the annual cost of treatment for some patients could be hundreds of thousands of dollars, The New York Times reported.

The price increase is "unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population" and "unsustainable for the health care system," the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association said in joint letter to Turing.

"What is it that they are doing differently that has led to this dramatic increase?" Dr. Judith Aberg, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told The Times.

The large price increase for Daraprim could force hospitals to use "alternative therapies that may not have the same efficacy," she added.

Martin Shkreli is founder and chief executive of Turing. He told the Times that Daraprim is rarely used and therefore any impact on health care expenditures would be small. He also said that Turing will use revenues from Daraprim sales to research better drugs to fight toxoplasmosis.

"This isn't the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business," Shkreli said.


New Health Law Rule Faces Bipartisan Opposition

Democratic and Republican members of Congress are banding together to fight a provision of the Affordable Care Act that could boost insurance premiums for employees of many small and midsize businesses next year.

The provision would expand the definition of a "small employer" to include companies with 51 to 100 workers, which means they would become subject to strict insurance regulation as of Jan. 1, The New York Times reported.

Historically, states have defined small employers as those with 50 or fewer workers.

Companies with 51 to 100 workers that are reclassified as small employers would have to offer a package of "essential health benefits" specified by the Affordable Care Act. In some cases, those packages would be more generous than what those companies currently offer their employees, The Times reported.

Also, insurers would no longer be permitted to set premiums for workers at these businesses based on their claims history, industry or size.

The new rules "may result in significant premium-rate changes for some groups," particularly those with relatively healthy or younger workers, according to the American Academy of Actuaries, a nonpartisan professional organization, The Times reported.

The Affordable Care Act provision is opposed by members of Congress from both parties, as well as some employers, insurers and state insurance commissioners.

Legislation to allow states to keep the current definition of "small employer" has the support of 229 House members, including 43 Democrats, and of 43 senators, including 10 Democrats, The Times reported.

The legislation is also backed by a number of major business and industry groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, America's Health Insurance Plans, and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said she is studying the matter and wants "a smooth transition to the new requirements," but the Obama administration has not offered or endorsed any proposals, The Times reported.

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